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MANILA - The Philippines remains Ebola-free but the Department of Health (DOH) said it is currently monitoring seven Filipinos who arrived from Sierra Leone, which has been hit by an outbreak of Ebola virus.
In a press briefing Friday morning, DOH spokesperson Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy said that since March 2014, there have been 1,323 Ebola cases in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, including 729 deaths, with the fatality rate reaching 55 percent.
The latest casualty was a 40-year-old Liberian male, who was reported to have died in Lagos, Nigeria after traveling from Liberia. He was asymptomatic upon arrival but exhibited symptoms of the disease in a hospital.
The DOH said the country is still free of the Ebola virus.
"There's no reason to panic but we cannot be complacent as well," Lee Suy said.
The incubation period for the Ebola virus is anywhere from 2 to 21 days.
This is why DOH personnel will be getting in touch with asymptomatic overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who came from the aforementioned West African countries everyday for an entire month to monitor them.
Regional health officials are on standby to facilitate the conduct and admission of possible suspected cases to the nearest DOH hospitals or medical centers.
So far, the DOH is still currently monitoring 7 Filipinos out of the 15 who arrived from Sierra Leone.
The others have been cleared, including 3 OFWs who initially had fever.
Lee Suy is also strictly urging any returning Filipino manifesting fever, headache, intense weakness, joint and muscle pains, and sore throat to seek clearance with local health authorities from the country of employment, before being allowed to embark, in order to prevent the entry of Ebola virus in the country.
As a safety measure, all arriving passengers, regardless of their point of origin, are also asked to accomplish a health checklist for easy tracing.
Thermal scanners have also been put in airports, and those with fever or exhibiting any of the symptoms will be brought directly to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) for lab testing.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) raised Alert Level Status 2 among the three affected countries, which means the deployment of OFWs with new contracts has been suspended.
Proper coordination of officials of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Philippine Overseas Employment Administartion (POEA), and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is now being undertaken with the DFA and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) for possible repatriation.
Meanwhile, with the case fatality rate ranging from 52 to 75 percent, the World Health Organization (WHO) has described the Ebola epidemic in West Africa as remaining "precarious" with continuous transmission of infections in both the community and among health facilities.
A recent surge in the numbers of cases in Guinea have revealed that community transmission had gone undetected and that outbreak-containment measures needs to be scaled up particularly effective contact tracing.
Ebola is a severe, infectious, often fatal disease in humans and primates (monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees) caused by infection from the Ebola virus.
Ebola can be transmitted through close contact with: blood secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals, body fluids and stools of an infected person, through contaminated needles and soiled linen used by infected patients, or direct contact with the body a deceased person.
Signs and symptoms of infection with Ebola virus include: fever, headache, intense weakness, joint and muscle pains and sore throat; this is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding; sometimes, rash, red eyes, hiccups and bleeding from body openings may be seen in some patients.
The DOH advised suspected cases to be taken immediately to the nearest health facility for medical attention.
Severe cases require intensive supportive care. At present, there is no specific treatment or vaccine yet available.
According to Lee Suy, the most at risk to contract Ebola infection are health care workers and laboratory workers who may be exposed to secretions and specimens from infected individuals.
Family members and those in close contact with those who are sick can also become infected.
Prevention measures include: 1) avoid close contact with infected patients; 2) avoid consumption of the raw meat of possible infected animals like fruit bats, monkeys or apes; 3) wear gloves and appropriate personal protective equipment when taking care of ill patients at home; 4) wash hands after visiting sick relatives in the hospital and after taking care of ill patients at home.